Lost in Space
Directed By: Stephen Hopkins
Starring: Gary Oldman, William Hurt, Matt LeBlanc, Mimi Rogers, Heather Graham, Lacey Chabert, Jack Johnson, Jared Harris
Studio: New Line
The Film **
Lost in Space is a cinematic adaptation of the 1960s television show about a family of space explorers. William Hurt plays scientist John Robinson who is preparing to take his family on an interstellar trip to prepare for the colonization of distant worlds. Their mission is made urgent by an impending ecological disaster that will make life on Earth unsustainable in a matter of years. Wary of the efforts by a group of seditionists to sabotage their mission, Major Don West, a hot-shot fighter pilot is assigned to pilot their spaceship, The Jupiter 1, and accompany John, his wife Maureen (Rogers), and their children Judy (Graham), Penny (Chabert), and Will (Johnson as a youngster, Harris when he is older) on the mission. Prior to the launch, their ship is sabotage by the amoral Dr. Zachary Smith, who has been bribed by the seditionists. When Smith is subsequently betrayed by his employers, he finds himself stuck on the Jupiter 1 with West and The Robinsons which is hurtling towards the sun. Their only chance to escape destruction proves to be an unguided jump into hyperspace which leaves them lost ... in space.
When Lost in Space was originally released on DVD in 1998, about three weeks before I purchased my first DVD player, it had a reputation for its combination of cutting edge A/V with copious special features (two whole commentaries!) and a pretty terrible movie. I was tempted to buy it just for its technological gewgaws despite near unanimous misgivings expressed by critics and friends about the film's quality. A DVD rental ultimately disabused of that notion and I had not though about it much until this review screener arrived in my mailbox. Watching it a dozen years later, I began to wonder whether I had just been poisoned by all the negative opinions prior to my first viewing of the film. The first act set-up with its gratuitous space dogfight and character introductions is pretty light and fun viewed through the prism of low expectations. This is also the part of the film where they shoe-horned in all of the cameos from many of the actors from the original TV series including Mark Goddard, June Lockhart, Angela Cartwright, and Marta Kristen which created some nostalgic good will. The special effects during this section were pretty impressive as well, with graphics for the space fighters that presaged the look of the Iron Man HUD and a nifty looking hyperspace effect that was a direct antecedent of the "bullet time" effect that would be exploited memorably in The Matrix a year or so later. I figured if I could just keep my brain in "park" the rest of the way, I could enjoy watching Gary Oldman chewing some scenery, some kid-oriented space action, and then escape unscathed.
...and then things took a turn. From the moment the Robinsons and company emerge from hyperspace, almost every element of the film does not work. The tone becomes wildly uneven, the dialog becomes even more tin-eared than it was in the opening act, and the plot veers off into unnecessarily complicated nonsensical directions in what feels like an attempt to touch on every pulp science fiction cliche before the credits roll. Adding insult to injury, a viewer can also all but see exactly where the production team ran out of money with a couple of remarkably unconvincing CG creatures (one completely gratuitous and one connected to the plot, but poorly realized) that look like unfinished animatics from an effects reel.
The film has caught some flack for bad performances from reviewers, but I honestly cannot see how any actors could make the dialog in this film work. William Hurt and Gary Oldman make superhuman efforts to escape the film with their dignity intact. Oldman more or less embraces the absurdity of things and plays Dr. Smith just broadly enough to let the audience know he is having fun. Oldman walks a tightrope between the campiness of the character as realized by Jonathan Harris in the original television series and a convincing level of menace befitting the sporadically darker tone of this cinematic adaptation. He is usually successful, but his success draws attention to the wildly inconsistent tone of the film. Hurt just tries to make things believable, which usually works, but occasionally finds him recycling expressions since the script gives him no opportunity to show any progression of character until the final act. By halfway through the film's second act, the female characters are reduced to afterthoughts, although deleted scenes included with this disc show there was a plan to involve them in a parallel subplot even more inane than the main thread that the male characters are forced to plod through.
The Video ****
The VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer of the film is letterboxed to its original proportions of approximately 2.4:1. As was the case, with the SD DVD, the visual quality is solid with barely perceptible fine film grain and few if any digital artifacts. It is kept from being demo material by several passages of the film that are intentionally a bit murky, possibly to try to better integrate CG and practical elements in the frame. That being said, such lighting set-ups do not always come across as they should in video, but that is never the case with this presentation. If anything, the consistently strong resolution makes the visible seams of some of the unpolished looking special effects show even more obviously than they did on the previous DVD release. Conversely, it also allows the viewer to fully appreciate some of the more impressively detailed effects sequences early in the film.
The Audio *****
Sound is courtesy of a DTS HD-MA 5.1 track. The film has a very impressively dimensional and dynamic mix, and the lossless rendering on this Blu-ray does it full justice in a near-field listening environment. Alternate Dolby Digital 5.1 language dubs are available in German and Spanish
The Extras ***½
Extras carry over from the previous DVD special features with the exception of anything that was text-screen-based. Video-based extras are presented in VC-1 encoded standard definition video and all extras are presented with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio unless otherwise indicated.
First up is an Audio Commentary from Director Stephen Hopkins and Producer/Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman. This feature-length intermittently screen-specific commentary features Hopkins and Goldsman recorded separately and edited together for a relatively engaging behind the scenes overview of the production. Both men discuss how they came to be working on the project, with Goldsman offering insights into the shaping of the screenplay and Hopkins offering plenty of information about production activities with cast and crew. The editing is well done and prevents extended periods of silence when one participant or the other lapses into silence. Near the end of the commentary, Goldsman offers up an interesting description of the direction that a sequel would have taken had one been produced.
A second Audio Commentary with Visual Effects Supervisors Angus Bickerton and Lauren Ritchie, Director of Photography Peter Levy, Editor Ray Lovejoy, and Producer Carla Fry digs deeper into technical aspects of the production with the bulk of the commentary coming from Bickerton with respect to the ambitious special effects for the film. The various techniques used to achieve different effects are discussed in detail and are pretty interesting whether one views the net results to be a success or failure. Bickerton is pretty candid about the limited amount of time and financial resources they had with which to work. Other participants predictably but welcomely discuss their areas of expertise.
Behind the Special Effects (4:3 video - 15:56) is a featurette focusing on the film's ambitious effects sequences. There is quite a bit of overlap with the second technical audio commentary, but this featurette benefits from the ability to illustrate the various effects techniques with both production footage, pre-production materials, and demonstrations of various tools and techniques. Viewers get behind the scenes looks at the animatics for the "Bubble Fighter" dogfight sequence, a demo of real-time CG puppetry, the motion capture of Gary Oldman used for the "Spider Smith" segments, and a pre-effects look at the "Spider Smith" introduction. Other topics include Visual effects lighting tricks for CG, and the compositing of miniatures with computer graphics. On camera comments are offered by Bickerton, Animation Supervisor Mac Wilson, Computer Graphics Supervisor Lee Danskin, and Computer Graphics Supervisor Nick Lloyd.
A Music video for the Lost in Space Theme by Apollo Four Forty (4:3 letterboxed video - 3:25) is a quick-cut montage of film and band clips cut to a fast paced techno-styled re-working of the theme from the original TV series.
Deleted Scenes (4:3 letterboxed video - 11:46) is a reel of scenes trimmed from the movie at various levels of completion. Text title screens and brief clips from the finished film are used to introduce and contextualize the clips. Extended/deleted scenes include:
- Extended/Alternate ending of "hydroponics" scene
- Scenes from a deleted subplot involving an additional "time bubble" where Penny discovers what a fully grown Blarp will look like
- An extended exposition scene where John explains the theory behind time travel to a somewhat disinterested Don.
The Theatrical Trailer (16:9 video - Dolby Digital 5.1 audio - 1:33) is a relatively brief teaser with n emphasis on the film's action sequences.
The Future of Space Travel (4:3 video - 9:49) is a brief featurette looking at some of the film's ecological and scientific aspects from the perspective of real world environmentalists and space travel enthusiasts. The film's ecological message as it relates to modern times is discussed by Jeff Hohensee of The Tree People while the science behind the film and the practicalities of both manned an unmanned space expeditions are discussed by Charlene Anderson, Andre Bormanis, and Dr. Louis Friedman of The Planetary Society.
Q&A with the Original TV Series Cast (4:3 video - 7:35) features three of the original series cast members answering relatively softball questions about their experience making the program and subsequent reaction to its enduring popularity. The questions are posed via text on the screen after which they are answered by either June Lockhart, Angela Cartwright, or Mart Kristen.
The disc is enclosed in a standard "Elite" Blu-ray case with no inserts. The film and extras are encoded with minimal java so that the "resume" function of most players should work after stopping or powering off the player.
Lost in Space is a misfire modern adaptation of the enduringly popular 1960s television program that fails due to a pretty terrible script, an uneven tone, and some over ambitious attempts at significant creature effects that appear rough and unfinished. It is presented on Blu-ray with outstanding audio and solid video with a generous collection of extras carried over from the previous DVD release from 1998.